The Sound of Musicals

Fri 28th – Sat 29th October 2011

reviews

Julia Chapman

at 09:17 on 29th Oct 2011

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A collection of showtunes compiled into a single production hardly sounds like the stuff great evenings at the theatre are made of. And yet, the Gala Theatre Stage School’s production The Sound of Musicals was a highly entertaining, strangely intoxicating experience. Showcasing the expertise of the North East’s most talented young musical theatre performers, The Sound of Musicals took the audience on a journey through the Golden Age of musical theatre, from Cabaret to The Sound of Music. And the talent was simply knockout.

The difficulty with this sort of production is that without any narrative structure, the throwing together of songs from different musicals can easily lack focus and lose the attention of the audience. These issues were sparse in The Sound of Musicals. The songs were, for the most part, seamlessly tied together by the orchestra, which itself deserves commendation for the vast array of numbers it played so well. Despite a few shaky voices, the singers gained confidence over the course of the show and built upon each successful song. Each one’s stage presence was remarkable.

The company, which must have comprised around forty performers ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-one, was scattered around the stage at tables dimly lit like an atmospheric cabaret. From there, each would emerge into the spotlight to have their moment to shine. Some of the bigger numbers felt cluttered because of the sheer volume of talent, but the solos were generally exceptional. The best were undoubtedly ‘The Hills are Alive’, a positively chilling rendition, and ‘Maybe This Time’, the ultimate power ballad, which were both performed by the sensational Maddy Banks. The other standout talent was Emma Hall in ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ whose flawless performance solidly placed her as the ultimate triple threat.

What made these young talents so unusually accomplished were their phenomenal tap-dancing skills. These were hinted at throughout the show, but the culmination of the production with ‘I Got Rhythm’ in tap-dance by the entire company was simply mesmerising.

The Sound of Musicals was somewhat akin to Glee, and was certainly within the same age bracket, but these performers seemed to transcend mere pop fluff and emanated maturity and professionalism. The numbers in the production maintained a good balance of upbeat tunes with powerful melodies, with only the occasional song lagging in pace and lacking excitement. The show was also a bit long for what it was, but this enabled each talented performer their chance in the spotlight.

Despite its unpromising premise The Sound of Musicals was a spectacular production. Rather than nostalgically transport us back to the Golden Age of musicals, the show firmly rooted its audience in the present, marvelling at the talent before us. While some numbers were stronger than others, the overall impression was one of great accomplishment. There truly is no business like show business for these impressive performers.

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Helen Catt

at 10:52 on 29th Oct 2011

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To keep an audience entertained for ninety minutes with only musical numbers to work with, and no plot line to fall back on, is no mean feat. But the Gala Theatre Stage School managed it. A group of young performers ranging from sixteen and twenty-one ran rampant through a dozen different musicals with infectious energy and enthusiasm. The performance would leap from the beautifully sung The Hills are Alive, with a single spotlight on a single performer, to the stirring You'll Never Walk Alone, to the catchy Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby with ease. The constant change of pace was well coordinated to keep the audience on edge and the orchestra did a wonderful job of holding the whole piece together. I'd love to congratulate whoever wrote the arrangement for managing to create both such variety and continuity at once.

The performance was at its best with the smaller numbers – with the whole company on stage it could sometimes feel unwieldy and occasionally slightly graceless, particularly right at the very beginning of the show. The company seemed to pull together as the night continued and they became more at ease. The solo performances were never less than thoroughly competent and at best were thrilling. A deliciously husky performance of Caberet's Farewell Mein Leiber Herr was a personal favourite, although the backing vocals felt fairly sugar-coated in comparison to the main vocalist, who managed to create a fantastic sense of character within just a couple of bars. This creation of a sense of character was something many of the performers excelled in, in fact. The wonderfully dreamy Eliza Doolittle in I Could Have Danced All Night was utterly believable, as was the exasperated Mrs Pierce and the maid trying to send her to bed. Staying with My Fair Lady, I'm Getting Married in the Morning was performed with such gleeful tongue-in-cheek that it was impossible to watch it without grinning.

Watching The Sound of Musicals, I had an overwhelming sense of the likelihood of seeing some of these performers on the West End. When I arrived at the Gala, I was – although I didn't realise it at the time – mentally prepared to make allowances for the performers on account of their youth. For the most part, no such allowances were necessary. Admittedly, there were moments when the choreography lacked the finesse and polish of a professional group – but this was because this was amateur theatre, not because it was youth theatre. They showed impressive stamina in being able to maintain the high level of energy throughout the whole performance, and it was clear that this was a group of talented people – whatever age they happened to be.

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